The Dirty Politics Of Media Machinations
- Dennis Small
“I play politics like Fijians play rugby. My role is smashing your face into the ground” (Cameron Slater, the leading National Party attack blogger [Whale Oil], dirty politics exponent, adviser and agent of Prime Minister John Key, the “smiling assassin”).
“Key [has] overseen a Government involved in more personal attacks and negative politics than any in living memory” (“Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics Is Poisoning New Zealand's Political Environment”, Nicky Hager, Craig Potton Publishing, 2014, p10).
“When will you glove puppets of Cameron Slater just piss off?!” (Pam Corkery, Internet/Mana Party media manager, to mainstream media reporters, 24/8/14).
“Making Hager Pay: We've good reason to feel concerned about the politicisation of our security agencies and the Police” (“Gordon Campbell on John Key avoiding being held accountable for the SIS and GCSB” [Campbell is referring here to the Police raid on Hager's home], 7/10/14: www.scoop.co.nz).
As the constraints of the real world continue to press harder on our outlook for the future – those greater uncertainties even indicated by our newly re-elected Prime Minister John Key – our society is going to face a whole complex set of challenges. The Western ruling power elite, especially the Anglo-American set, will aim both to further consolidate the National Security State (NSS) and direct aggression at a growing range of declared, alleged, or potential enemies overseas. The corporate-owned and/or corporate-influenced mainstream media will be integral to this project (“Truth, War, Propaganda, CIA & Media Manipulation”, 9/1/14, www.globalresearch.ca/). Domestically, the moves to authoritarian control with the consolidation of the NSS will be pervasive and all-embracing, i.e. at least in the longer run (if not effectively countered!). In 2014 the national electoral process in Aotearoa/NZ served as yet another demonstration of how the “Establishment” here is operating to promote its special interests in accordance with the precepts of the militarist market.
This article is a post-election consideration of some of the forces revealed in the electoral process with reference to the mainstream media and follows up on my previous article (“Media Manipulation: From Future Perfect To Militarist Machinations; From Free Trade To Global Conflict”, Watchdog 136, September 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/36/07.html). There are a multitude of aspects and examples that we could examine. The documentation could be enormous. We have to be selective here. Doubtless, a whole raft of reasons pertains as to why the existing National government got back into office so comfortably. But a major factor deliberately fostered by the National Party, in conjunction with the mainstream media, was the role of “dirty politics”, and the way this strategy worked - both to protect PM John Key, and further damage the Opposition parties, in particular the Labour Party, the largest such party. Overall, this was probably by far the most influential factor determining the election result, given its constancy, pervasive nature, and continuous reinforcement. It served to shape and manipulate people's perceptions and understanding of so many relevant issues. Indeed, the media possibly played the biggest and most biased role in a NZ election since the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed Colenso/Hanna Barbera “dancing Cossacks” cartoon adverts and “Commie” scare campaign helped National defeat Labour back in 1975 and usher in the Muldoon era. The grim outlook in the second decade of the 21st Century is that such media bias is both deepening and becoming ever more manipulative. In turn, this is driven by a combination of global forces (see my previous article, ibid.).
The Corporate Media Game
In Western capitalist societies, the prime function of the mainstream media is to protect and serve above all the vested interests that own and control them. We can indeed draw the generalisation here that this is the basic function of mainstream media in any society and, most notoriously of course, in authoritarian and totalitarian states. These socio-economic conditions amount to the realities of political power. So the more countervailing power that there is available the better, all things being equal, as it were. Back in 1983, in a searching examination of societal sources of power, Professor John Kenneth Galbraith picked out in particular “the notably alarming role of the modern military power” and its increasing reach (“The Anatomy of Power”, Hamish Hamilton, p188). While he also noted the considerable control exercised by the mainstream media, Professor Galbraith felt at the time that there was “more danger of overestimating than of underestimating the power of the modern media” (ibid. p178). In the actual practice of media influence, besides the role of property, Galbraith stressed the element of “organisation” (ibid. p177). Indeed, he contended that organisation is “the decisive source of power. It is the social conditioning flowing from organisation and determined by the character of organisation that sustains and wins the external submission” (ibid.).
This crucial factor of organisation in relation to the mainstream media is certainly what National's dirty politics illustrates at work on the NZ scene in recent years. National's blogosphere brigade has effectively harnessed the mainstream media to fulfil its political purposes. It can also be argued strongly that since Galbraith's time, the power of the mainstream media - including the prominence given to simplistic images and “sound-bites” - has grown greatly. This has been marked in various dimensions, often in quite Orwellian fashion, e.g., the propaganda campaign behind the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (intimately involving the NZ media, especially State-owned TVNZ and private TV3 ever since). Another Orwellian example is an ongoing one: the World War I commemorations extolling “freedom”, “sacrifice”, and nation-building for NZ, and so the promotion of militarist nationalism, priming us all for more wars and eventually WWIII (e.g. ONE News, TV1, 1/11/14). This is now linked by PM Key to a new flag. Propaganda rules. It can be argued, too, that the very diversity of the media today, with so much being online in one form or another, only ultimately reinforces those images and sound-bites that so many people still see and hear. Paradoxically, the power of the mainstream media can be even more simplistic and influential in its messaging, and the massaging of these messages.
In a capitalist democracy, the mainstream media are mainly privately owned. Clearly, such a social system is going to be more democratic in discussion and debate where there is a diverse range of media representative of the various interest groups, categories, communities, and constituencies of people. By the second decade of the 21st Century, however, a narrowly concentrated oligopoly of media power prevails in the West, reflecting the concerns of Big Business and its beneficiaries. This is strongly expressed in Aotearoa/NZ. From a lifetime of experience and observation, my view is that this mainstream media has never been so narrowly and dangerously biased. General public discourse, debate and discussion are correspondingly constricted. Snoopman News succinctly spells out the capitalist media concentration here: four mainstream media corporates dominate TV, radio and print - Fairfax Media, Sky TV & Prime, MediaWorks, and APN News & Media (owner of the NZ Herald, etc), while TVNZ is funded by big corporate advertisers (“When will you glove puppets of Cameron Slater just piss off?!”: www.snoopman.wordpress.com/tag/pam-corkery). In an excellent, incisive article, Snoopman analyses the corporate media game that TV3 and TV1, in particular, played on August 24, 2014, at the time of both the National Party election launch and that of the Internet/Mana Party (ibid.). His analysis highlights crucial aspects of the way in which these media operated to help National win the election and subvert the Opposition, and thus further subvert our democracy in the process. The principal tactic on this particular day was to collectively attack Kim Dotcom, who was bankrolling Internet/Mana and who was an avowed enemy of John Key, and correspondingly promote their beloved PM.
Ever since John Key took over as the Leader of the National Party, a basic strategy of the mainstream media has been to protect him, as much as possible, from any damaging criticisms, embarrassing issues, and compromising associations. This strategy was revealed in some depth and detail in “Dirty Politics” by internationally renowned investigative journalist Nicky Hager (op. cit. Jeremy Agar’s review of it appears elsewhere in this issue. Ed). His dramatically revelatory book about how vicious attack politics were being orchestrated from the Beehive, the very seat of our Government, almost rocked the ruling National Party off its heels. But a combination of damage control by PM Key, namely his sacking of the badly compromised Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, and subsequent media manipulation, succeeded in saving the day for National. In fact, it seems that the revelations about the Government's dirty politics – again, paradoxically enough, and most disturbingly – worked in National's favour once the mainstream media decided for us, i.e. the NZ public, that the dust had settled on the issues raised. Overall, there are now evident a number of factors that point forward to the kind of neo-fascist State which Western capitalism will increasingly embrace as conditions across the world inevitably worsen, given current trends. Our response must be to help build the resistance movement, activate constructive dissent, and develop positive alternatives. This includes, most importantly, the forging of effective working links with like-minded non-government organisations (NGOs) overseas. We face globalist threats which demand concerted, pre-emptive internationalist action in response (see my article “Capitalist Militarism: The New Social Darwinism & The Crisis Of Western Civilisation”, Peace Researcher 48, November 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/48/pr48-009.html).
Rightwing Political Strategy
From the birth of the Trilateral Commission (US, Europe and Japan), and even earlier, the Western power elite has been very concerned about the dangers that it perceives as inherent in too much democracy. Trilateralism’s “…influence can be dated from the early years of the 1970s and was particularly influential among US scholars, diplomats and politicians. Applying an essentially economic (my emphasis) concept of power, the trilateralists saw the possibilities of hegemonial cooperation between the 'poles' of the US, Japan and the European Community” (The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations”, G Evans & J Newnham, Penguin, 1998, p544).The role of transnational corporations (TNCs) was integral to the Trilateral world vision, which was especially oriented against efforts of the “Third World” to try and raise commodity and resource prices, as had happened in the case of oil. Trilateralists developed an elitist version of “democracy”, emphasising control from the top. American “neo-conservatives” (“neo-cons”) and their allies have expressed this ideology in its hard-line form during the last couple of decades. Clearly, the capitalist media had to be central to Trilateralist design and related projects. Media baron Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. empire have come to epitomise its pernicious role in everything from fostering neo-liberalist markets to warmongering. Murdoch's exceptional rise was noted by Galbraith in 1983, ironically reflecting the tradition of an earlier era of media barons and capitalist accumulation (op. cit., p176).
This is the background in light of which we can trace American Rightwing influence on our own political system under the leadership of our very pro-US PM. Nicky's book puts us in the picture about the applications in Aotearoa/NZ of American Republican Party strategy to more effectively use the mainstream media in subverting meaningful grassroots democracy. “Dirty Politics” updates and advances the thesis of his previous book, “The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception” (Craig Potton Publishing, 2006. Reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 114, May 2007, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/14/03.htm. Ed). The latter revealed the earlier collaboration of the National Party with Big Business and a variety of conservative groups, and how National was coordinating a virulent and radical brand of neo-liberal policies under the cover of a cunning public relations (PR) programme. Far from reforming its cynical and manipulative approach, the National Party went on to refine the practice of “dirty politics” under the continuing regime of Mr John Key, the man with the sly crocodile smile. The carefully calculated stratagem has been to present Key as “Mr Nice Guy”, while carrying out a programme of underhand machinations in a parallel fashion, a “two track strategy” (“Dirty Politics”, chapter 1, “The Rise Of The Bloggers”, op. cit.). With the dedicated assistance of the mainstream media for the most part, this stratagem worked again for the 2014 election. In his own assessment of the electoral result, Nicky Hager sees this political outcome as a confirmation of the thesis of his latest book: of how National Party-aligned bloggers and hard-Right activists have shaped public perceptions by poisonous attacks on the political Opposition, as relayed via the mainstream media, its tactics and filtering mechanisms. It all sadly represents, for the moment, another lamentable triumph of dirty politics.
During 2014 it was clear to many people, even before Nicky released his book, that there was a concerted campaign going on with the National Party and the mainstream media working hand in hand – or, rather, hand in glove puppet - to keep Key and his Party in office. As Nicky comments: “… the 2014 election year was defined by a noticeably relentless succession of attacks against Labour and its’ potential coalition partners. Many ordinary people began to feel that something was not right, that a dirty kind of politics was at work” (ibid. p119). Indeed, Nicky could smell a rat somewhere on the political scene, and so he readily availed himself of a cache of damning e-mails gained by an anonymous hacker (Rawshark or Whaledump) from the computer of blogger Cameron Slater (Whale Oil), the key player in National's nasty political game. Hager's great contribution has been to reveal so much of the inside machinations of this National Party/media campaign and the dirty work behind the scenes. The first, and most obvious, point we can draw from this observation is that the mainstream media itself was certainly not going to declare “mea culpa” (except in one creditable individual case – see below). “Lack of media scrutiny is a big part of why John Key's government could get away with running the friendly, relaxed image while being involved in continuous negative politics” (ibid. p135). Comments like this are hardly going to endear Hager's basic message to the mainstream media! While there is still enough integrity and diversity in elements of it for some of Nicky's revelations to be pursued – at least to an extent – the general approach has been either to join the National government in attacking the messenger/message, or to play down the clearly evident implications as quickly and as much as possible.
The Attack Strategy Of The Smiling Assassin And His Agents
Hager has remarked how his attention first really got riveted on dirty politics as played by the National Party when hot controversy blew up about the Auckland mayoralty election in October 2013 (ibid. p11). Certain “extremely personal details of Auckland Mayor Len Brown's sexual affairs were published on the Rightwing blog site, Whale Oil” (ibid.). As Nicky said: “…it became clear that the exposé had been arranged by his political enemies to try and push him out of office and replace him with their own mayoral candidate. It was a dirty type of politics that is not normal in this country. He was actually being attacked because of his political beliefs” (ibid.). But mainstream media commentators were quite content to see this as “normal” for Aotearoa/NZ and even back Cameron Slater and his vicious Whale Oil website to the hilt. As I noted in my previous Watchdog article on “Media Manipulation” (before the appearance of Nicky's book), TV1's Q & A presenter Susan Wood had strangely gone out of her way in emphasising that, in her opinion, Slater had only been after a good story, and there was no political motivation behind his actions (op. cit.). For any thinking journalist, this was surely astonishing stuff and really beggars belief. But, in fact, this syndrome has long been typical of the mainstream media and its policy and practice towards the John Key-led National government. Much of this mainstream media now operates as a virtual arm of the Government's PR, and certainly as a vehicle of neo-liberal, and increasingly National Security State/militarist ideology. Of course, it even got worse in the case of Cameron Slater, as he “won two awards for best blog in NZ, at both the ESET NetGuide Web Awards and Canon Media Awards” (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p117). The latter prize; that he got in May 2014, was “largely on the strength of his Len Brown 'success'” (ibid.). Nicky says that this latter prize was “a sad joke”. One could well comment that it was in fact a very sick joke, and yet another nail in the coffin for journalistic standards. There has of late been a hail of such nails. One of the latest is the legal acceptance of Slater as a journalist (“Whale Oil blogger is a journalist, High Court judge rules”, Press, 13/9/14). This judgement will further lower the general ethical standards of professional journalism, which bloggers like Slater have already been assiduously undermining. The erosion of what is left of our democracy goes on!
Support for dirty politics is widespread in the mainstream media and its apologists, dissimulators and PR purveyors are plentiful in number. Here is a list of reporters or media commentators (whom I have happened to come across), who have set out to directly shoot down Nicky's message about dirty politics, and/or the messenger, in some way or another: Mike Hosking; Paul Henry; Rosemary McLeod; Sean Plunket; Tahu Potiki; Duncan Garner; Charles Finny; Dr Michael Bassett; Karl du Fresne; Deborah Coddington; Matthew Hooton; and Mike Yardley. These media people are mostly neo-liberal in orientation, with the remainder essentially conservatives of one type or another. And no doubt there have been considerably more such people who have featured in the media circus of dirty politics to date. Matthew Hooton has certainly proved to be a very interesting case. As a player “at the start of the conservative attack blogs”, Matthew Hooton has spun a grossly self-serving PR tale “how it [had] all spiralled out of control” (“Anatomy Of The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy [VRWC]”, Sunday Star Times [SST], Adam Dudding, 7/9/14). Hooton would, of course, have disclosed nothing if Hager had not shed light on his dark activities and those of his mates. He had been a very active participant of the self-proclaimed “VRWC” (ibid. “Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p19).
This VRWC led on to the Cameron Slater/John Key dual track policy of dirty attack politics/”Mr Nice Guy” image and persona - the ultimate Orwellian “double-think” in action. In 2014, just before the election, there was obviously a bit of turmoil within the National Party as it desperately acted to deal with Hager's revelations. Most tellingly, Hooton has opined that: “It seems Hager and WhaleDump didn't reveal behaviour that isn't already assumed, so Key is unscathed” (SST, ibid.). The Establishment's tame media “Leftie” Chris Trotter basically agreed (ibid.). For sure Trotter, in this instance, was very much on the mark, although we shall take up his conclusion further below too. Trotter asked whether 30 years of neo-liberal capitalism had deeply distorted our societal culture and made selfishness, greed and “dirty tricks acceptable” (ibid.). He concluded that: “Because if that is the sort of people we've become, then, sadly, that's what this election is about” (ibid.). National's dirty attack politics strike at the very heart of our democracy.
Dealing Out Dirty Politics
For hard-Right media commentators like Paul Henry and Mike Hosking - as promoted by our TV channels - such dirty tricks are simply par for the political course, and, indeed, their own PR spin is very much part of this same syndrome. Even “Leftie” Chris Trotter initially took this line until he saw the need to change tack. Trotter had even previously lauded Key as his “New Zealander of the Year”! In Parliament (22/10/14), in reply to questions by Dr Russel Norman, Co-Leader of the Greens, John Key made it quite clear that it is business as usual for National's dirty attack politics and his close personal relationship with Cameron Slater & co. (Parliament TV). The other leading National Party attack agent, Kiwiblog’s David Farrar, indicated in early September that “he knew for a fact 'that there were still communications… between Press Gallery journalists and Whale Oil' about potential political stories” (SST, op. cit.). The mainstream media/National Party programme of media manipulation continues unabashedly, whether directly fed by bloggers or not. It has been overseen by Crosby Textor, an Australian political strategy outfit, which specialises in “the politics of personal attack” (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p11). Crosby Textor has been a significant driver of the National Party programme since the days of Dr Don Brash as Party Leader (see Nicky Hager’s earlier book “The Hollow Men” for details. Ed.).
This media manipulation syndrome is regularly expressed by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky/Prime channel and head reporter Barry Soper's PR spin. For instance, on Prime's evening new bulletin the very same day that Dr Norman's questioning elicited PM Key's admission about his close and continuing relationship with Cameron Slater, Barry Soper only featured National's Deputy Leader Bill English making fun of the then Labour Leader David Cunliffe (Prime News, 22/10/14). This was presented as the channel's newsworthy Parliamentary item! TV3 ignored Parliament that same night. While TV1 did feature Key's admission, such treatment stands out as an exception for Political Editor Corin Dann and his team. They had plenty of similar material to work with before the election but they so very deliberately chose instead to pillory Labour Leader David Cunliffe on trivial issues like the rest of TV and radio did, along with much of the print media (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., pp125-7). By the time of National's campaign launch on August 24 Dann had decided that the dust had settled on dirty politics and that John Key was moving on. On October 28 Dr Norman and other Opposition MPs asked further questions about Key's relationship with Slater. None of the TV channels mentioned it. Radio NZ (RNZ) did, presenting it - oddly enough - as an Opposition attack in Parliament that “failed to fire” (Checkpoint, 28/10/14). Yet RNZ's own presentation once more showed up the slippery PM's trickiness in dealing with the questions asked. And so it goes.
In late November 2014 Key had to admit that he had been in very regular recent contact with Slater. Indeed he had to correct a previous statement in Parliament that he had not been. This time around the mainstream media could not ignore the obvious and arrogant economising with the truth by their hero. There were even suggestions that – wash your mouth out with soap – John Key tells lies! Ed.
Smashing The Political Opposition
Most tellingly, the TV channels have enjoyed repeatedly showing off Internet/Mana's Pam Corkery giving her angry “sound-bite” about TV3 political reporter Brook Sabin being “a puffed-up little shit” (although Sabin is not actually identified as the target in the clip). But they have hardly ever included her remark on the same occasion about how they were all the “glove puppets of Cameron Slater” - and we can well add, ultimately of John Key. Brook Sabin, the son of National MP Mike Sabin, certainly stood out for his pro-National bias in the run-up to the election. He has an obvious undeclared conflict of interest. A recent example of his nasty negative attack politics at work was the targeting of Green MP Steffan Browning in regard to Browning's eccentric enthusiasm for homeopathy (TV3, 3 News, 30/10/14). Browning had signed a petition advocating its use in treating ebola. National's attack blogger Cameron Slater had, the previous day, posted a Whale Oil assault on Browning for signing the petition. Steffan Browning had rashly recorded the signing on his own Facebook page, along with promotion of the petition. On October 30 Browning's indiscretion had been cited by National in Parliament and later featured the same evening as the third most important item on TV3's 3 News. It was given quite lengthy and detailed coverage by Brook Sabin, with the Greens' Co-Leader Dr Russel Norman having to hose down the embarrassment. Browning acknowledged that he had been “unwise” and had removed his signature from the petition. But he still considers homeopathy a possibility in the treatment of ebola. Brook Sabin used this point to hammer home an attack against the Greens in general. He told viewers that, in recent years, the Greens have been trying to shed the “wacky” image and look “mainstream”. He concluded that viewers could judge for themselves if fighting ebola with homeopathy is wacky or not. As wacky as National's climate change scepticism?!
As the future unfolds Brook Sabin and his National MP father may, unfortunately, have plenty to reflect on as to how humankind has got in such a mess, and the ultimate meaning of “mainstream” with its creation of Hell on Earth (see, e.g., the United Nations’ latest report on climate change). Ironically enough, it is the intrusion of globalism and economic growth into remote African jungles which has unleashed ebola on the world, another blowback of the Western-engineered assault on our planetary ecosystems. But, in the meantime, we can see that it is most assuredly business as usual for National's malevolent attack politics and the intimate integration of this strategy into the mainstream media. The National Party and its media agents want to bury the revelations of dirty politics. Ironically again, however, they are using more dirty politics to try and cover up their rotten deeds. Brook Sabin has provided us with a very graphic example, acting as a de facto PR man and spin doctor for the National Party. Here we have a mainstream media political reporter with direct links to the National Party in more ways than one. We have National's leading attack blogger as his likely source and the use of this source to so very deliberately try and humiliate an individual Opposition MP. Moreover, not only does Sabin puts his own deeply ignorant political spin on it all – his ultimate aim is to viciously portray the Greens as wacky. An individual Opposition MP makes a silly mistake and the political party is rubbished. TV3's report even included a brief sound-bite by the “smiling assassin”, John Key himself. Key made a remark about what Browning had done, to the effect: “It sounds barking mad to me”.
In this particular dirty politics case, the underlying reason is evident enough. Dr Russel Norman of the Greens is leading the fightback against dirty politics in Parliament and trying to unravel the connections of PM Key with Cameron Slater. It is the job of TV3 and Brook Sabin, under the direction of Political Editor Patrick Gower, one of Slater's top contacts, to help mount the media counter-attack on the Greens and other Opposition parties. National's vile network closely and constantly monitors its opponents for opportunities to mount as many nasty personal attacks as it can. A lot of its elements are concisely and clearly illustrated by this specific episode, thanks to TV3, Brook Sabin & co. Like Paul Henry and Mike Hosking, Brook Sabin is another really venomous Rightwing reporter/media commentator of the type so encouraged and fostered by the mainstream media these days.
On this very same day, too, Opposition MPs, from both Labour and the Greens, had put the spotlight on Slater's work for the National Party in attacking unions and workers' rights, as in the Ports of Auckland dispute. At issue was the third reading of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (passed that day), which facilitates the transnational corporations’ agenda to further drive down conditions for workers. The new Act removes rights to collective bargaining and tea-breaks/rest periods for workers, introducing another stage in “the race to the bottom” for Aotearoa/NZ. As well, the Opposition had contested the highly questionable, indeed quite outrageous, role of former National MP Katherine Rich as a Government appointee on a public health committee (see later below for more detail). But both TV3 and TV1 in their news reportage ignored these most important matters and continued to carry out their habitual protection of John Key, coupled with attacks on Steffan Browning and the Greens. As Noam Chomsky has observed, the Orwellian techniques of the mainstream media can take a multiplicity of refined and devious forms. These techniques are rampant under the Key regime.
Priming Personal Attacks
Throughout election year 2014, the mainstream media most calculatedly and malevolently portrayed Labour's then Leader David Cunliffe as “tricky”. TV1, TV3 and Prime excelled in this project. The television medium and such portrayal can certainly have impact. Key's far more active, and indeed often quite nefarious trickiness, on the other hand, is still systematically concealed by the same mainstream media from the public as much as possible, with the odd lapse now and again for the pretence of balance and fairness. The malicious triviality of the attack blogger culture as relayed via the mainstream media prior to the election was mind-boggling. Slater specialised in attacks on Cunliffe (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit, pp125-7). As I have emphasised, all the TV news channels keenly cultivated the “tricky” Cunliffe angle, with TV3 probably being the worst culprit. One of the newsworthy issues concerning Cunliffe related to the colour of an item of clothing. TV3's Political Editor Patrick “Gower essentially bullied Labour Party Leader David Cunliffe for wearing a red scarf” (Snoopman News, op. cit.). Gower, as noted, is one of Slater's “powerful friends”, along with other media people and politicians like Paul Henry and former Justice Minister Judith Collins, and above all, John Key (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p134). During election year 2014 the glove puppets of National's attack dog Cameron Slater were openly baying for blood. My partner had a couple of letters to the editor published in the Press on the revelations about dirty politics. A third letter was declined because the Press and the rest of the mainstream media had, by this time, decided to close down debate on these matters in order to help ensure that the National Party got back into power. Here is her letter that the Press declined:
“It is disturbing to see that people are still shooting the messenger, Nicky Hager, instead of heeding the message in his book ‘Dirty Politics’. Hager's message is a plea to clean up dirty tactics employed to undermine democracy. The combination of bloggers like Cameron Slater and David Farrar, working with Big Business interests and members of Government, exposed in his book, should be a wake-up call to us all. Obviously this particular blogosphere has been perverting much of our media and politics. For example, even David Cunliffe's red scarf became a critical talking point in the media and a target for ridicule. Contrast this with the continuing promotion of John Key in the midst of negative dirty politics as still having clean hands. This election, more than any other, demands that our vote must be for the protection of our democracy. Yours, etc. Rosalie Newcombe”.
Media Malevolence Unleashed
The most cynically contrived and malevolent attack on Labour's David Cunliffe concerned his “apology for being a man”, made in the context of a Women's Refuge symposium (4/7/14). It was plain enough that on the occasion Cunliffe made the comment, he delivered it in a qualified way, in a context where he had been emotionally moved by stories of male violence against women. He was strongly defended for his remark by the women he was supporting. In 2014 there has been a very active movement in Aotearoa/NZ to try and stop (or at the very least significantly reduce) male violence against women and children. For instance, note this newspaper headline: “Manning Up To A Violent Past – A Countrywide Campaign Is Calling On NZ Men To Stand Up Against Violence Towards Women” (Press, 14/10/14). The Government actually sponsors some of this. For the mainstream media, especially the TV channels again, to maliciously and repeatedly pillory Cunliffe for his remark was outrageous, and so very hypocritical, given officially sanctioned policy. National and the mainstream media clearly targeted Cunliffe in this regard in order to further drive down the male vote for Labour.
The issue of women's rights has become a worldwide concern. While the West has cynically used it as a propaganda tool in its terrorist “War on Terror”, the cause has its own obvious validity and urgency. On a planet increasingly under threat from macho male violence as social Darwinist conflicts spread, it is vitally important for men everywhere to take a principled stand and articulate the call for human decency. David Cunliffe did so. The NZ media attacked him for it. Government funding and support for women's refuges, despite National's posturing, had been reduced. But the mainstream media ridiculed Cunliffe instead of examining this vital issue. This media malevolence has been so effective that even Labour MPs used it against Cunliffe. Some of the mainstream media are dedicated to fomenting division in, and between, the Opposition parties. But the experience has afforded us another real insight into the Rightwing agenda at work in the National Party/mainstream media programme to derail Labour. Nicky Hager points out, in regard to Cameron Slater's digging for sexual dirt on people: “It is sufficient to say that the Slater papers provide ample evidence of the hypocrisy of exposing others because of their sex lives. Many of the attitudes expressed towards women are also abhorrent” (op. cit., pp115 & 159). This is the sort of sexist culture embraced, or certainly excused by Key, and constitutes part of the wider culture, that he has so systematically cultivated, of dirty politics. The toxic environment is designed to suppress Leftwing philosophy and activities across a range of social spheres. Any effective Labour Leader who truly stands for social justice and human rights will, in the future, face the same media hostility as David Cunliffe experienced, and the same concerted underhand tactics to undermine him or her.
“Black Ops” Plotting And Prime Ministerial PR
The original Vast Rightwing Conspiracy (VRWC) supporting the National Party comprised, among others, prime players such as: David Farrar of Kiwiblog, who is also the National Party's pollster as well as a key strategist; Hong Kong-based lawyer and ACT member Cathy Odgers (self-styled blogger “Cactus Kate”); Tina Nixon, a Wellington public servant (blogger “Busted Blonde”); and Charles Finny, top US contact in NZ (as revealed by Wikileaks), and “then head of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce” (blogger “Queen Bee” of “The Hive” hilariously enough! [SST, op. cit.]). They also “included blogger and future National MP Nikki Kaye” [now a Government Minister] (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p19).
The VRWC keenly interacted with receptive media. “Some mainstream media journalists happily exploited the unregulated medium” in various ways, no doubt keen to push neo-liberal views and policy and to rubbish the opposition (SST, op. cit.). One technique has been to pass on information or opinion to a friendly blogger, who then posts it, enabling the scheming journalist concerned to claim an independent source for his/her story. Apparently after the 2008 election, the VRWC faded away to some extent but both Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog and Farrar's Kiwiblog became even more prominent, and have been particularly virulent in recent years. The later phase of the Rightwing blogosphere, very much centred around Cameron Slater and Whale Oil, called itself - again appropriately enough - “Chaos and Mayhem”.
Farrar's mate and PR man in the neo-liberal NZ Taxpayers' Union, Jordan Williams, is one of the very unpleasant characters involved (see “Dirty Politics” for relevant information, op. cit.). Given recent revelations, several former members of the VRWC have scrambled for cover, although Key has brazenly refused to apologise for his damning involvement and gross associations, except to dissimulate further. Key has shown himself to be content with Slater's corporate PR (including for tobacco, alcohol and junk food companies) and his related smear campaigns on people defending better public health standards. With his Merrill Lynch background, this is all very much home territory for John Key, the “Smiling Assassin”, and nowadays an enthusiastic death squad proponent of the Western State terrorist strategy of drone warfare on the world's poor. Outstandingly, Key himself is a proven liar (which no doubt endears him even more to a lot of the mainstream media); for example, denying that he knew the new Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Ian Fletcher, who, in fact, turned out to be an old school chum and a personal crony appointment. But the neo-liberal mainstream media, of course, did not label Key as “tricky”! They have only, very deliberately, used that label for David Cunliffe.
While David Farrar (Kiwiblog) acts as a more civilised attack blogger than Slater, it is still an outrage to journalistic standards, as Hager maintains, that Farrar has been assiduously cultivated as a mainstream media commentator (chapter 9, “The Many Hats Of David Farrar” & “Afterword”, ibid.). Farrar, who is employed directly by the National Party, should not be used by the mainstream media in such a role at all. He is the attack network's “keeper of the dirt” and so another very unpleasant individual (ibid. p114). The Government contact for the attack bloggers was one of the PM's right-hand men at the Beehive, Jason Ede, even known as the “black ops” man. This term is no coincidence. Way back, we were predicting that governmental and social control activities inspired and adapted from the CIA/Pentagon armoury would increasingly apply psychological operations warfare techniques to the domestic scene (see “NZ Ready Reactionaries Practise Repression”, Peace Researcher 29, Special Issue, August 1991, http://www.historicalpeaceresearcher.blogspot.co.nz/2010/06/peace-researcher-vo1-issue29-aug-1991.html). The mainstream media were already being embedded in this “psy-ops” strategy and its characteristic practices. Propaganda, spin and accompanying “camouflage” are integral to all this. We also predicted a lot of the social pathology of 21st Century Western State terrorism and the consolidating NSS (ibid. & “NZ Terrorist State Holds Hostages: Freedom Fighters Attempt Rescue”, PR 30, December 1991, http://www.historicalpeaceresearcher.blogspot.co.nz/2010/06/peace-researcher-vol1-issue30-dec-1991.html)
Something Rotten In The State Of Aotearoa/NZ
It is clear that Nicky Hager's excoriating study has exposed much that is rotten at the core of the NZ Establishment and its media cover; and that the Government and its close associates will continue to orchestrate their efforts at damage control, while fostering as much of the same for the future with which they can get away. In general, they can certainly count on the mainstream media for help in this, whatever the exceptions that might occasionally arise. The media cover-up just prior to the election, once the puppeteers had decided that there had been enough exposed about dirty politics, shows just how the strings are pulled – and the wool pulled over the eyes and ears of the public. The Establishment's Matthew Hooton, in particular, remains a firm favourite with the mainstream media, despite his record to date and his implication in so much of dirty politics. This is sickening stuff, especially when he is talking about matters relating to himself. But, again, this is typical media practice. Hooton now poses as a more measured Rightwing commentator, e.g. criticising Key on several matters. He is regularly featured on Radio NZ, bracketed with the former Labour Party President, Mike Williams, the hard Right balanced against the Leftist middle of the road approach. A key goal of neo-liberal media management is to constantly fudge meaningful debate between Right and Left, and above all try and suppress Leftwing activism. For instance, conservative Labourite Josie Pagani is another of TV's favourite “Leftie” commentators. Trotter, Pagani and Williams, along with similar commentators, dampen real dissent and debate, and meaningful discourse on alternative paths and options. Both Hooton and Trotter, as indicated earlier, actually have much the same view of the state of our political culture: their underlying message being that there is little we can do about it (SST, op. cit.). Strongly Leftwing voices are systematically stifled, except for the rare token gesture for form's sake. Meanwhile, National is resolutely promoted as “Centrist”.
Conservative newspaper columnist Martin van Beynen expressly articulates the message that there is little we can do about the sad state of political behaviour in Aotearoa/NZ (“Sadly, Hager's Book Won't Clean Up Politics”, Press, 23/8/14). Van Beynen's piece also contains more mainstream media spin. For one thing, he makes the hilarious claim that the Government “will be thankful the hacker who nabbed Cameron Slater's emails and phone records did not leak them to one of the big newspapers or broadcasters. A newspaper would, for instance, have packaged the material into front page splashes which would have drawn the story out for much longer” (ibid.). Not only would have any newspaper - even if willing to act as van Beynen has suggested - been instantly stymied by legal action, none of the mainstream media in NZ/Aotearoa would have anything like the motivation to take such action against the National government. The record to date testifies overwhelmingly to the validity of this proposition. So far there has been some relevant media coverage of dirty politics but falling far short of the ongoing and close attention that the issues involved in National's performance deserve. Thankfully, we have the book “Dirty Politics” and its damning documentary record readily to hand, and lots of leads to pursue.
Again, van Beynen's PR article asserts that the “same sort of rabid discourse and underhand tactics” might have been revealed “in the private emails of a Left blogger or activist” (ibid). There are no Leftwing blogs and Websites in Aotearoa/NZ comparable with that of Whale Oil. But the crucial matter here clearly relates to the exercise of power and the related use of “underhand tactics”, and so public accountability. The role of any NZ Leftwing blog is irrelevant for such consideration during the regime of the Key government. Furthermore, the Left in Aotearoa/NZ, and in the wider West, faces the full weight of the Rightwing mainstream media as never before. So this is another red herring floated by van Beynen. To be fair to van Beynen's comment, he does criticise “the progeny of the National Party's moneyed elite” for their performance as “a bunch of nasty, toxic, hate-filled brats bent on a vindictive, class-ridden agenda” (ibid.). Hear, hear! And he gives several examples of Slater's dirty work. Yet, he remarks near the end of his article: “mainstream media are often the subject of scorn in social media but the ‘Dirty Politics’ saga shows the value of having a trusted institution to disseminate news, opinion and information” (ibid.). Sorry, Martin, you miss the very point of such scorn. Nicky Hager's book is an up-to-date analytical documentation of media bias and its machinations. There is now growing anger and disgust at this gross media bias.
Neo-fascist overtones have appeared in more than one aspect of the dirty politics connected with the Government. The most disturbing element relates to physical intimidation or attempted physical intimidation, something else that has not been condemned by John Key in connection with attack blogger Cameron Slater. Far from it, in that Key, as we have stressed, is fully committed to his liaison with Slater and National's dirty politics. The issues involved here can well be considered the most important of all raised by questions about the role of dirty attack politics in NZ society. An instance of this relates to the author of “Dirty Politics” himself, prior to the publication of his book, and in connection with some other research he had done previously on tax havens and their agents. One of Hooton's mates, tax havens lawyer Cathy Odgers (“Cactus Kate”), actually urged David Farrar, Cameron Slater and Matthew Hooton – all intimately linked to the National Party - to reveal “where Hager lives” in order to put him at risk from rich Chinese who had been upset about Nicky's published findings on their use of tax havens. To quote some of her remarks: “Those Chinese can be very vicious when they lose face”, and so she “was delighted to help with full details for Hager… Chop chop for Nicky (my emphasis)… our Chinese friends need a helping hand” (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit.., pp91-2). This is sinister, loathsome stuff, and catches the eye even in the context of the rest of the content revealed by Nicky on the National Party's vile attack blog network. “Slater and Hooton both replied, naming the address (Hooton gave just the street, not the number). Slater appended property records and wrote: ‘Here are Hager's details for your clients’” (ibid. p92). Odgers should be struck off the lawyers' register, and one would have thought there are good grounds here for Police prosecution too.
Although Nicky Hager obviously ignored the malign plotting of Cathy Odgers and her mates, others have experienced similar attempts, or clear enough warnings, of such physical intimidation by National's dirty politics attack network. In particular, there has been the case of civil servant Simon Pleasants, a case in which former Justice Minister Judith Collins has been implicated. National's attack network already specialised in malevolent psychological warfare. Cameron Slater had revelled in the death of an unfortunate person he labelled a “West Coast feral” and the suffering of “useless scum” Labour voters in earthquake-hit Christchurch. This is apparently “mainstream” stuff for some of the mainstream media and John Key. One of the concerns that got Nicky motivated about dirty politics was hearing about attempts at psychological and social intimidation stemming from Slater's Whale Oil blog and National's network. Even “a major news organisation” was intimidated (ibid. pp11/12).
It all sounds so ridiculous in light of the fact that Cameron Slater is such a grossly pretentious and obnoxious buffoon. Columnist Jane Bowron had a laugh at a TV1 Q & A panel (including political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards) symptomatic of “media commentators around who still fear that the now unmasked attack blogger can keep on hurting them” (Press, 1/9/14; TV1, Q & A, 31/8/14). But what is so scary for our democracy and society is that Cameron Slater & co. do still have real influence, and this vile network is obviously orchestrated, coordinated, and facilitated by the PM and other National Party agents as well. “John Key's Government (is) unusually aggressive at attacking and trying to silence scientists, journalists, academics, public interest groups and any other people who publicly (criticise) its actions” (“Dirty Politics, op. cit, p136). Similarly, “John Key's administration has been unusually intolerant and organised in the pressure it quietly applies to certain journalists, directly and through their employers. Whale Oil attacks (have) appeared to be a coordinated part of this” (ibid. p125). A number of independent-minded journalists have been bullied.
Undermining Societal Standards And The Public Good
A mainstream media journalist who has stood out over the years for his obvious integrity and independence is economics commentator Rod Oram. We can agree or disagree with him from time to time but his forthrightness is admirable. Oram has disclosed how very restrictive he has found public discourse in NZ/Aotearoa (“Defend The Right To Debate”, SST, 19/10/14). In a feisty article, Oram defends Hager's thesis on the suppression of debate and takes to task John Roughan, John Key's hack biography writer, another of Hager's media critics, and also significantly enough an NZ Herald editorialist (ibid.). Roughan's fawning “puff-piece” encomium of Key (timed for election year) represents another damning testament to the neo-liberal superficiality of the mainstream media in general, and its related PR for the National Party. Rod Oram is especially critical about “the ruthless way Cameron Slater, Carrick Graham and others have tried to destroy Professor Doug Sellman, director of the University of Otago's National Addiction Centre” (ibid.). Interestingly, Sellman wrote an appreciative letter to the Editor for the next issue of SST, saying that he had indeed been one of those “public servants” speaking out on social issues, and who had suffered smear attacks from “former tobacco lobbyist Carrick Graham (son of former National MP and Cabinet Minister, Doug Graham) and his accomplice Cameron Slater” (SST, 26/10/14).
Professor Sellman heartily endorsed Oram's warning that such smear attacks “threaten the integrity of NZ's democracy” (ibid.). These attacks were bad “but more concerning is the tacit support of these attacks by the National government” (ibid.). In his letter, Sellman spells out a remarkable case of the Government's support for undermining the public good. As he points out: “It has been revealed that Katherine Rich (a former National MP), Chief Executive of the Food and Grocery Council (an alcohol, tobacco and food industry lobby group) secretly orchestrated and paid for the attacks (on Sellman and others) while also a Government appointee on the Health Promotion Agency Board” (ibid.). Yet, despite this revelation and the protests of at least 33 senior health scientists, Katherine Rich's position on the Board has been protected by the Government. This Government support has not even been tacit lately in that its representatives like the PM and the new Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman (following the lead of his predecessor, Tony Ryall), have gone on to openly defend their stance in Parliament and elsewhere.
Chaos And Mayhem!
Public welfare continues to corrode the more the Government backs this corporate gaming and related ploys. In reality, of course, it is really the transnational corporations (TNCs) calling the shots and the neo-liberal Government, allied with bloggers like Cameron Slater, acting as their agents. “The Board Chairman who appointed her (Rich) was Managing Director of Coca-Cola Amatil NZ” (Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p83). So much of our lives nowadays are immersed in commercial and political PR, a constant flow of crap to distract our attention from who is pulling the strings (see Murray Horton’s “Who's Running the Show? And In Whose Interests?” in Watchdog 136, September 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/36/01.html). Coca-Cola, which has even appealed publicly for more Government support in Aotearoa/NZ, has a global record that its iconic glossy advertising campaigns don't mention, including child labourers in the sugar cane fields of El Salvador, the exposure of Indian workers to toxic chemicals, the oppression of Colombian unions, and a host of other abuses (“Belching Out The Devil: Global Adventures With Coca-Cola”, Mark Thomas, Ebury Press, 2008/9). Workers and unionists at Coca-Cola plants have even been murdered by death squads (“Soft Drink – Hard Labour: Guatemalan Workers Take On Coca-Cola”, Latin American Bureau, 1987).
But the mainstream media are certainly not going to contest the agenda of Coca-Cola & co. Corporate advertising alone dictates media conformity in the era of free trade globalisation. “[Carrick] Graham and Slater's Chaos and Mayhem activities are part of worldwide PR industry that earns money by helping big companies to manage news and politics in their favour” (“Dirty Politics”, op. cit., p96; see also chapter 7, “Cash for Comment”). Carrick Graham, Cameron Slater and Katherine Rich worked together on a campaign “in defence of Coca-Cola and Frucor, the manufacturer of Pepsi” against a class action being brought on health grounds (ibid. pp84/5). As Nicky Hager has observed: “Rather than addressing the health problems associated with sweet drinks, they focused the response on attacking” one of the people involved in the class action movement (ibid. p85).
We have so far referred to neo-fascist overtones in connection with National's blogosphere, particularly Slater's Website. Within the National Party itself, Cameron Slater, David Farrar and their mates, with political strategy consultant Simon Lusk operating in the background shadows, have been working to push the Party to the far Right. Their accompanying nefarious aim, like the US-driven Trilateralism of the past, is to suppress democratic participation. In reality, there are definitely Nazi-style aspects of National's vile, underhand network and its integration with the mainstream media: the conspiratorial organisation and style of its operation; the linkage with TNC and business interests that are either inimical or harmful (if weakly regulated) to public health and welfare; the persistent and malign personal attacks; the hate speech; the sinister web of influence threatening intimidatory violence; the complete lack of ethical standards; its deeply anti-democratic and anti-human rights nature; the thuggish crudity; and, most significantly of all, the continuing commitment of National's leader, PM John Key, to Slater's attack politics and dirty work. Mind-boggling stuff you would think, but pssst! - don't tell Patrick Gower, Paul Henry, Mike Hosking, Corin Dann, Susan Wood, Barry Soper, Brook Sabin, Duncan Garner, Lisa Owen, Rebecca Wright, etc, etc. (“Gordon Campbell On No More Mr Nice Guy”, 19/8/14, www.scoop.co.nz). The PR agents and spin doctors of the mainstream media are facilitating the transition to authoritarian crony capitalism under the regime of the emerging National Security State (NSS), and ultimately a neo-fascist future.
An Inside Look
The only journalist in the mainstream media who has really revealed the nature of his relationship with blogger Cameron Slater is David Fisher, a Senior Reporter at the NZ Herald (“My History With Cameron Slater”, NZ Herald, 25/8/14). Fisher, who was named Best Reporter at the Canon Media Awards 2013, describes how Slater, the son of a former National Party President, wangled his way into being a close confidant of PM John Key. About the time this was happening in April 2012 or thereabouts, Fisher himself was having strong reservations about his contact with Cameron and was backing away (although he still has contact). He felt the tensions as a journalist in more than one dimension. As he says: “Slater's links inside National meant he had access to good information” (ibid.). But he wondered more and more who was actually using Slater as the conduit for manipulation, who was really pulling Slater's strings. Slater's puffed-up, egotistic personality surely makes him ideal for machinations from behind the scenes, whether by Simon Lusk, the far Right political strategy consultant (as uncovered in Nicky's book) wanting to further radicalise the National Party, or by John Key himself and/or his agents like “black ops” man Jason Ede, now conveniently shifted sideways for PR purposes into a media firm closely associated with the National Party, “listed telecommunications company” Teamtalk (SST, 19/10/14).
Reporter David Fisher started writing stories that Cameron Slater did not like and so Slater mounted a vicious smear campaign of personal abuse against him. As Fisher remarks, he “became someone (whom Slater) wanted to 'smash'!” (NZ Herald, op. cit.). Once more, the disturbing suggestions of physical intimidation were evident in Fisher's case. “He (Slater) launched a personal assault with what I believed were threats of violence (my emphasis) and created an atmosphere in which I was personally and professionally denigrated” (ibid.). As Fisher comments, of Slater's Website: “It is as horrible an online environment as you will find anywhere” (ibid.). This is the poisonous environment that John Key has so eagerly embraced and deliberately cultivated, even openly enough as demonstrated by his own admissions of his close relationship with Cameron Slater (along with photos of them together as mates, etc.), and all the documentation in Nicky's book. Yet the mainstream media worked so hard in their overall PR to shield Key from critical public scrutiny that he went on to lead his party to win very comfortably. The malevolent treatment dished out by the mainstream media to the then Labour Leader David Cunliffe on either trivial, or calculatedly and maliciously distorted matters - especially by the TV channels - in comparison to that given PM John Key in the run-up to the election was glaringly stark. Despite Key's deep and very evident immersion in dirty politics, the mainstream media have succeeded in keeping him as clean as possible. If there had been a hint of this sort of stuff in Cunliffe's case then the Labour Leader would have been ruthlessly and comprehensively rubbished. Key's reputation, on the existing evidence, should now be in tatters. That it is not stands as an absolute indictment of the crony, corporate mainstream media and its dirty political machinations.
A Most Poisonous PM
John Key and his National Party purveyors are intent on poisoning our body politic with their dirty work – on so very deliberately subverting our democracy. But Nicky Hager's book has blown his cover - ripped off his mask - doing our society a great service. It is our job now to prevent the further rot, and to roll back Key's version of vicious crony capitalism and the authoritarian NSS. Key's trickiness gets more and more absurd as it continues to unravel – to the extent that even some of the media are now chuckling a bit at his contortions. The challenge for the Left is keeping the mainstream media honest as much as possible and to maintain an illuminating spotlight on Key's activities and connections. Slater's own maxim of “death by 1,000 cuts” needs to slice home. During the 2011 election year, the then Labour Leader Phil Goff was unsettled by certain information very quickly (indeed with most unusual speed) released to Slater under the Official Information Act (OIA). This information was contained in briefing notes on a meeting between Goff and the then Security Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Warren Tucker (see “Dirty Politics”, op. cit, pp37-41). The embarrassing outcome very likely contributed to Labour's loss in the election. Key deflected criticism by setting up an inquiry to investigate these allegations, which include new incriminating information. Key took similar action in the case of the dismissed Justice Minister Judith Collins too. But both inquiries had narrow terms of reference. In the meantime, as indicated, facts continued to appear which further cast the Government in a murky, devious role.
In the Goff/SIS case, Key is incriminated by having been contacted personally by the SIS Director. Yet Key claims that contact in this instance meant his Prime Ministerial office and not himself as a human being directly, even though he was specifically mentioned in the official communication! “Tricky” John Key is certainly a man of many hats and changes them regularly whenever it suits his egregious self-interest. As his whole career attests, he is a slick, superficial and very manipulative operator. He is the very personification of pragmatic neo-liberalism and monetary materialism in action, which so much explains his successful media image for many New Zealanders in today's culture. His trickiness has again been clearly exposed in his latest claim that his “conversations (with Cameron Slater) were not in his capacity as PM”, replying to Dr Norman's questions in Parliament (Greymouth Star [GS], 23/10/14; Parliament TV, op. cit.). Key asserted that he only spoke to Slater “as leader of the National Party” (GS, ibid.). The grossly cavalier behaviour of the PM means, as NZ First Leader Winston Peters has pointed out, not only a complete lack of accountability; it is also setting a “disturbing precedent by allowing Ministers to refuse to answer questions by claiming actions [are] not performed in their capacity as a Minister” (ibid.). The NZ Law Society has already complained to the UN about NZ government legislation inconsistent with human rights (https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/ ).
This was written before the simultaneous release of both reports in late November 2014. The Judith Collins’ one cleared her and she, laughably, claimed total vindication (not to mention lifelong restoration of the title “The Honourable” which Key had withheld from her). It remains to be seen whether Key restores her to Cabinet. The SIS/Goff report was critical of former SIS Director Warren Tucker because of his dealings with Slater and his breach of the legal requirement that the SIS be politically neutral. This led to an official apology from the current SIS Director, Rebecca Kitteridge. Both reports suffer from Government-imposed limitations: obviously relevant information was excluded from the purview of both inquiries and relevant key people were not interviewed, including the most relevant Key person of them all. Ed.
Creeping (Or Galloping?!) Fascism
As noted, Key's credibility continues to unravel. But Key is still treated in a vastly different fashion than Labour's David Cunliffe was. After all, Key's pantomime-like contortions on a wide range of issues – from Government spying to his devious ploys in refusing to deal with the blatant derelictions of National's coalition partner MPs, ACT's John Banks and United Future's Peter Dunne – were only very lightly aired (and certainly not criticised, let alone pilloried!) by the mainstream media in comparison. Post-election, the charade of the PM's tricky performances under Opposition questioning in Parliament – all under the very biased auspices of the Speaker of the House, David Carter – marks another aspect of the ongoing erosion of our democracy. We have a Press Gallery which has grossly failed to reveal anything like the travesties continually perpetrated by the Government. Having watched Parliament TV regularly during 2014, I can confirm the farce of the Fourth Estate is greater than ever. Already, this media pack is showing signs of querulous testiness about the pursuit by Dr Russel Norman and other Opposition MPs of the PM's connections with Cameron Slater (inanely asking why? Why?! etc.). Some of this media pack are certainly very committed to dirty attack politics in the interests of the National Party, the protection of their beloved PM, and thus the corresponding subversion of our democracy.
If “evolution” had set out to design a device to destroy humankind it could not do better than global capitalism as currently driven by America, the rest of the West, and their imitators like China and India. These days, we get a constant flow of American neo-liberal/militarist influence from a multiplicity of sources: from our very subordinate role in the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence and security system to TV and other media input. As disclosed in “The Hollow Men”, National Party strategist and PR consultant Matthew Hooton is an admirer of the wealthy Richard Allen, who has been President Reagan's first National Security Adviser, a Republican Party election campaign strategist, a Pentagon adviser, an activist “in various neo-con ultra roles”, and one of National's long-time, closest American advisers (op. cit., pp99-102). Allen is certainly on the far Right of US politics and was even linked to Guatemalan death squads, although this proved no obstacle to him getting a post at Otago University here in Aotearoa/NZ (for more on his background see my article “Covert Warrior Comes Out Of The Cold”, in Peace Researcher 24, December 2001, www.converge.org.nz/abc/covert.htm). In recent years, the mainstream media have deviously operated to try and cover up the Republican Party American connection with National and its NSS import.
The Media Cover-Up And Neo-Liberal Spin
This is the sort of foreign influence which fits their agenda whereas during the latest election campaign John Key's declared opponent Kim Dotcom became a special target of these same media with plenty of aspersions on his German background, along with allegations of interference in our political system. National and its media mates played their own version of the race card (regularly trotted out on “boat-people”, etc.) in Dotcom's particular case (www.snoopman.wordpress.com/tag/pam-corkery, op. cit.). This was in line with their original assault on him at the behest of Hollywood moguls & co. to help protect the privileged communications corporates, which benefit so handsomely from so-called “free trade”. The full weight of State power has been marshalled against trade mavericks like Dotcom, with the media pack wholeheartedly joining in and baying hard on his heels – even quite literally at Internet/Mana's election launch on August 24 (ibid.). Cameron Slater had, earlier in the year, boasted about how he was going to get Dotcom, and how he had the dirt on John Key's enemy. Slater himself got a bit tied up just before the election as he momentarily suffered some of his own utu and payback. But Duncan Garner (despite an amusing, ongoing public feud with Slater) and his team at TV3's 3rd Degree stepped up to the plate and filled this role with a carefully timed attack on Dotcom just before the election (17/9/14). After all, we must look after our PM and help facilitate a lot more foreign control, eh Duncan?! Duncan Garner has actually used CAFCA's statistics on foreign investment in Aotearoa/NZ to argue for more corporate control and crony capitalism (“Do MPs Cash-In On Xenophobia? You Can Bet The Farm They Do”, Press, 9/8/14). Garner did this in order to explicitly support “PM John Key” (ibid.). He also approvingly quoted (with a straight face!) the ultra-capitalist Forbes magazine about the supposed nature of the opposition to this control (ibid.). Comprador neo-liberalism and its agents rooting for the TNCs are rife throughout the mainstream media (see my “Media Manipulation” article, op. cit.). More free trade/investment, as expressed in the current Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations, comprises the vehicle for the de facto extinction of our democracy. National's current covert dirty politics point to a dirtier future.
Our State television is so badly biased these days that it even openly promotes hard Right ideology. This is expressed in particular by TV1's supremely and ridiculously smug 7 Sharp host, Mike Hosking, who practically fell over himself in his eagerness and desperation to try and immediately write off Hager's book from almost from the very moment it appeared, including a nastily biased interview with the author (14/8/14). TV1 went on to promote more neo-liberal propaganda in its cover-up of dirty politics with Corin Dann, Susan Wood, etc. pushing the empty charade of National's proposed tax cuts. What an utter farce TVNZ has so unashamedly become – from continual Orwellian war-mongering for the US to the open promotion of neo-liberalism and its beneficiaries. Hosking’s performance was matched by that of Paul Henry on TV3 who got the very Rightwing and US-aligned Charles Finny (Queen Bee of the Hive!) to “speed read” the book and then solemnly pronounce that it would not get anyone to change her/his voting intentions. MediaWorks is intent on trying to broaden Henry's reach with a new arrangement in 2015 whereby Henry will host “a cross-platform breakfast programme for TV3, RadioLive, and digital” communication, all to be broadcast simultaneously. Henry will replace several other hosts by this new so-called “cross-platform” mechanism.
In the early days of the revelations about “Dirty Politics” even some media people referred openly to Cameron Slater as “a nasty guy”. The evidence plainly now shows that John Key can also be described in similar terms. What Key has instituted in Aotearoa/NZ – National's poisonous blogger/mainstream media network – represents a most dangerous threat to our society. For this writer, the trends to authoritarian control and the NSS were evident many years ago. The neo-liberal plunder of the natural world has enabled consumerist capitalism to flourish for the moment. But those global challenges that even the PM acknowledges are pressing increasingly upon us. His own public response is the bullshit, reactionary distraction of waving a new flag. For the Left, the warning signs are everywhere. We have to be more resolute, more active, and more creative than ever before in contesting the forces of darkness.
1. Help with Nicky Hager's fighting fund in his most important legal contest following the nasty Police raid on his home: https://www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/NickyHager; the international Freedom of the Press Foundation is also running an appeal for Nicky: https://freedom.press/ .
2. Correction: In “Media Manipulation” (op. cit.) on p40 in a paragraph on the RNZ Board, it was wrongly stated that, “Deputy Chair of the TVNZ Board of Governors is Josh Easby”. This should have read: “Deputy Chair of the Radio NZ Board of Governors is Josh Easby”.